Although details have yet to be finalized, a second round of the All Aboard Cleburne Promotional Program is in the works. Cleburne council members approved the next round during Tuesday’s council meeting. City staff will present program specifics, most likely at the next council meeting, for council approval.
The first round of the program, through $5,000 grants, offered a lifeline to local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Scott Cain and City Manager Steve Polasek, after Tuesday’s meeting, said the amount of the grants in the upcoming round have yet to be determined.
Council members approved $300,000 in funding for the first round in April, which translated into grants for 60 local businesses. The city’s Type A Economic Development Corporation supplied the funding for those grants.
Funding for the second round of grants, however, will derive from federal CARES Act funding. Funding for the program this go around will total between $100,000 and $130,000 Finance Director Troy Lestina said.
Cain asked whether the new round will favor businesses who did not receive the grant in the first round.
That remains to be determined, Director of Development Services Shane Pace said, but the second round will probably be open to all eligible businesses.
“We want to get word out that we’re ramping that program up again,” Cain said. “The goal, obviously, is to get money into local businesses [affected by COVID-19] and back into the local economy.”
Specifically, council approved an amendment to the current year’s budget to include an appropriation for the COVID-19 Fire Services Readiness and the Operation Connectivity Program in the amount of $404,246. Part of that appropriation will fund the second round of the All Aboard Cleburne program but the bulk will go toward city fire services.
“The biggest part is about the fire department with about $206,000 to go towards dryers, bunker gear, a few hazmat suits, other personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves.,” Lestina said.
Council had already figured 12 new sets of bunker gear into the budget for the fire department. With the budget adjustment, and through CARES Act money, the city will now purchase 68 additional sets of bunker gear. The reason, Lestina explained, is to allow firefighters switch out bunker gear between calls so as to mitigate the possible spread of COVID-19.
“The dryers, they already have washing machines, are to keep the bunker gear dry so that they can reuse it in a few hours,” Lestina said. “Otherwise, they wash and hang it up and it takes 16 to 24 hours to air dry.”
Cleburne received about $1.7 million in CARES Act funding of which the city has spent about $400,000 so far not counting council’s appropriation approval on Tuesday, Lestina said.
“This [appropriations approval] will take us to about $780,000 spent, not even half of what the city was awarded,” Lestina said. “But we’re running up against the deadline for using the award.”
CARES Act funding allows cities and other governmental entities to receive reimbursement for certain expenses related to COVID-19 mitigation and other costs encountered.
Lestina, when asked by Councilman Mike Mann how confident he is that CARES Act funding will reimburse the amount of the $404,246 appropriation, said he and Polasek spent several hours on the phone with Texas Department of Emergency Management officials to ensure such is the case.
“We were told that if the city feels these things are necessary to fight COVID-19 then [the reimbursement] will be approved,” Lestina said. “We wanted additional approval for that before moving forward and [TDEM] have given us their essential approval. We did not want to come to council and ask for this money and now know if we were going to get it back.”
Some of the money appropriated, Lestina added, will go toward the Operation Connectivity Program whereby CARES Act funding will be used to purchase mobile hot spots for WiFi access to assist Cleburne ISD. City council recently passed a resolution of support to help CISD with such issues, which are necessary to ensure internet access to students still involved in distance learning.
Council members also authorized Polasek to apply for and accept funds from the Texas Department of Transportation for a CARES Act grant to cover expenses related to Cleburne Regional Airport.
The CARES Act includes $10 billion in funding to provide economic relief to eligible U.S. airports affected by COVID-19. Cleburne Regional Airport, part of the national airport system, qualifies for such funding, Lestina said.
Cleburne in September received notice of a TxDOT grant in the amount of $6,117,360 for runway rehabilitation. The grant includes funding the 10 percent match the city would otherwise have to pay thanks to additional CARES Act funding.
Council had already budgeted that match amount, which is $611,736.
“By accepting the grant, the 10 percent project match that would normally have come from the city’s budget will no longer be required,” Lestina said.
Lestina answered yes when asked by Cain if the $611,736 budgeted for the match can instead now go toward road repairs or other projects or simply held on to and not used.
Councilman Bob Kelly joked that council had best approve acceptance of the grant before the powers that be change their minds.